Missionville: More than 100 sold, 6 reviews

After two weeks since publication, I wanted to provide a quick update on how Missionville is doing.

All sales are through Amazon, whether its for the paperback or kindle version.

In total, more than 100 copies of Missionville have been sold, three quarters of those sales are for the paperback.

The majority of sales have come through amazon.com (the US market), but a few have come from .co.uk (where I now live) and .ca (Canada, where I worked at Woodbine for two years). I had a friend of mine test whether it can be purchased in India (.in), it can!

So far, the book has received six 5 star reviews. Four of these reviews are on the .com site, two are on the .ca site. I thought it was odd that amazon doesn’t combine the reviews, so each site shows all six. I am told they don’t do that, because of language issues, they don’t want a customer to see reviews in a foreign language. Makes sense, although obviously in the case of these three sites, all reviews are in English!

Excerpt: Missionville, Chapter 4

More on Missionville

Book excerpt: Missionville: Chapter 4

What do you want to accomplish with Missionville?
I wanted to use fiction to further my passion for horses, and the welfare of horses. Missionville basically illustrates the horse racing industry at its lower-end. I don’t think this has been exhaustively covered in other fiction, with a few exceptions.

But I also wanted to show that not everyone in the industry is bad, nor is everyone good. I hope the interactions that Amanda has, with some of the horsemen on the backside, are a good illustration of this. I also try to show that we are a product of our environment, and it’s our environment, in this case the racetrack and its rules, that helps dictate our behavior.

Tell us more about Missionville, the place.
Missionville is a racetrack, in a town by the same name, which is a small fictional town in rural Pennsylvania. Missionville, the town, used to be a thriving mining community through to the mid-80s. The mining plant has since closed, and many local jobs have gone with it.

The town has its own newspaper, the Missionville Times; its circulation has been hit heavily by the flight of its population to larger cities on the east coast, as well as a result of the internet. The town also has a bar that is popular with the racetrack crowd, Jessup’s. It has a good Italian restaurant, Zucchini’s, a local bank, gas station, and a drug store. Most other businesses have either closed down or left.

The racetrack has steadily declined over the years, despite getting a casino license eight years ago. Not many people attend the races. Life on the backside is tough, with many horsemen barely surviving from pay check to pay check. The racetrack bar, Poker’s, which is adjacent to the paddock, is where the racetrack guys tend to hang out, when at the races.

Missionville is about an hour’s drive from Owenscreek, a market town, which hosts a horse auction each Tuesday afternoon. Sometimes, thoroughbreds from Missionville are sold through this auction.

What inspired your settings in Missionville?
I have worked at Missionville, but it’s not a fictionalization of one particular track I worked at; it’s a combination of Penn National (there’s a bar adjacent to the paddock at Penn National, for example), Woodbine (at least two characters are based on people I met at Woodbine), Sam Houston Race Park, Presque Isle Downs, Oaklawn Park, Keeneland and Churchill Downs.

I have visited Owenscreek on a number of occasions, but it’s not a fictionalization of one particular auction; it’s a combination of Sugarcreek, OH, OLEX, Waterloo, CA, New Holland, PA, and Shipshewana, IN.

The Missionville Times is based off my experience with the Cecil Whig. The local bank, where Amanda works, is based off my own bank in the United States, Cecil Bank. Zucchini’s is oddly a lovely Italian restaurant, just outside of Gweek, in Cornwall, UK.

Who is Pete?
Pete’s a good looking guy, so he’s not me! But there is a piece of me in Pete, in terms of how his character evolves. Like Pete, I was pretty oblivious of the plight of horses, once they were no longer in my care. Like Pete, once I more fully realized their plight, I tried to make a difference. A few of my friends – if they read the book – might see a little of themselves in Pete, that’s not coincidental.

Who is Amanda?
Amanda represents the many people who work on the off-track side, rehabbing or retiring racehorses. There are many organizations and people committed to this work.

Why write the book?
Honestly, I thought writing fiction would be an interesting challenge. Most of my writing, to date, has been non-fiction. So I enrolled in a local course for creative writing, I also joined a local writers’ group. I learned some of the essence of writing fiction, and then embarked on this journey.

Missionville is available on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.ca

Praise for Missionville

Missionville: a horse racing novel

Missionville is available on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.ca

“There are two versions of horse racing in the American narrative: the sunny version where everyone loves their horses like children and a stakes win is just a dream away, and the dark clouds version where every horse is marked for death from the day it is foaled, handled by so-called horsemen who couldn’t care less as long as there’s a pay check. Naturally the truth lays well in-between. In Missionville, racing insider Alex Brown tells it like it is: a deeply flawed industry where even passionate horsemen and women can be dragged down by a tough lifestyle, hopeless options, and sheer hard luck. Unflinching and yet not overwrought, this book lays bare a fractured world of horses, the people who love them, and the people who exploit them, which somehow isn’t yet beyond redemption.”
-Natalie Keller Reinert, Author of Turning for Home

“Alex Brown, a lifelong horseman, takes you on a journey few are capable of providing, to life on the backside of a hardscrabble Pennsylvania racetrack, showing the pressures that bear on both the horses and the humans, and the possibilities for it all going off the track. He takes you to the real underbelly of the sport. He gives you characters you can root for as they face moral dilemmas. He tells a good tale while he’s giving you the tour. A terrific read.”
–Mike Jensen, journalist, Philadelphia Inquirer, winner of an Eclipse Award

“Behind the grandeur and pageantry of American horse racing there is a dark secret playing out. Author Alex Brown transports his readers to rural Pennsylvania, where heart-pounding action and heartbreak intertwine at the Missionville Racetrack. A captivating read, Missionville excels in its narrative of love, life – and death – on the racetrack’s backside.”
–Jordan Schatz, Sports Editor, Cecil Whig

“Alex Brown’s Missionville takes an unwavering look at a beloved sport. You probably remember Brown’s affecting writing about Barbaro, the doomed 2006 Kentucky Derby winner, and here he takes on a portrait of a downtrodden fictional racetrack. Brown writes with a true insider’s understanding of the depth of passion that people have for horses and watching them run. It isn’t an easy read—slaughter, drugs, and real desperation are all here—but Missionville gives readers a compelling look into the simultaneously troubled and beautiful world of horse racing.”
-Eliza McGraw, Author of Here Comes Exterminator!

“Set at the Missionville Racetrack, this novel is a close-up look at the backside culture at a racetrack that lets us in on the worries, triumphs, and concerns for the horses that are at the mercies of their owners. This is a fast-paced read that is educational as well as entertaining.”
–Shelley Mickle, author of Barbaro and American Pharoah

“An intriguing horse mystery written by someone who obviously knows the industry. A great mix of horse knowledge, racing highlights, romance and an inside scoop on the controversial slaughtering of retired racehorses.”
–Christine Meunier, author of the Thoroughbred Breeders series

“While bringing such rich life to the largely hidden world of Missionville Racetrack, Alex Brown turns an unflinching eye on the modern horse racing industry, its flaws along with its many virtues. A must read for anyone with even a passing interest in the sport.”
–Dan Ross, journalist with bylines in Newsweek and the Guardian

“Missionville is a fast-paced read that grips the reader from the start and provides a ride that is both eye-opening and entertaining. It’s not easy to make the seedy underground network that drives horse racing and horse slaughter entertaining, but Brown manages to pull it off with vivid characters and a gripping storyline. In the end, he presents no easy answers for the complexities of the issue, but leaves the reader with hope for the future of the nation’s horses. Highly recommend; a great piece of work.”
–Sharon Boeckle, filmmaker, director and producer, From the Kill Pen

“Alex Brown is a prominent opponent of horse slaughter whose blog posts about Barbaro held the Kentucky Derby winner’s fans in thrall as the colt struggled, and ultimately failed, to recover from a broken leg. Brown’s fans will be glad to see his byline again, this time on a novel that reports from one of Thoroughbred racing’s low rungs: the fictional Missionville Racetrack in Pennsylvania, where denizens of the track confront, and sometimes challenge, their own moral decay in a world where horses are used, discarded, and ‘disappear’ into the slaughter pipeline, even as others try to adhere to their love for the animals and protect them from such a fate. Brown’s first effort as a novelist provides a rare insight into the little-covered nuts and bolts of how horses once considered valuable can end up in a dreadful situation, as well as the thought processes of the people who put them there, the people who come to question those decisions, and those who work to change a world where desperation can lead to serious moral peril. It is a bleak tale, but not without a few happy endings, some human redemption, and an education for the reader.”
–Glenye Cain Oakford, author of The Home Run Horse

Missionville is fiction based on fact, but don’t think Alex Brown’s book in any way exaggerates or distorts the truth to make it more sensationalist, far from it. Brown has worked in the industry and knows at first-hand what goes on. Brown tells it like it is, and tells it very well.”
–Will Jones, author of The Black Horse Inside Coolmore

“I could not put it down. It is a riveting read, a thrilling equine literary ride. Alex Brown illustrates a realistic narrative of the racing world culture and paints a wonderful landscape of the backside dynamics. Brown’s book also provides a clear lens into the equine slaughter pipeline.”
–Kristen Halverson, author of A Horse’s Magical Neigh

“Alex Brown provides an authentic insight into what lies beneath the glamour of horse racing. Brown holds a mirror up to a disturbing side of the horse industry, exposing deep flaws and depraved deeds.”
–Caitlin Taylor, OTTB Designs

Missionville: to be launched in early September

Missionville is now available on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.ca

I am excited that Missionville should be available in about a month, in early September. It will be available to purchase online, via Amazon.

If you would like to be alerted, when the book becomes available, please send me an e-mail at alexbr4cornwall@gmail.com

About Missionville

Pete fell in love with horses, then devoted his career to training racehorses at Missionville, a low level racetrack in rural Pennsylvania where horses and humans depend on each other – just to survive. He quickly learns that winning at the races isn’t easy under ordinary circumstances, and that some successes at Missionville aren’t the result of luck or talent – but flagrant cheating. Thanks to a potential love interest, plus death, deception, and more, Pete opens his eyes to what’s really going on around him to discover he doesn’t want to play the game anymore. A push in the right direction sends Pete on a journey that leads him from Harrisburg to Quebec in an effort to help restore a bit of humanity to the racing world.

Praise for Missionville

“Alex Brown, a lifelong horseman, takes you on a journey few are capable of providing, to life on the backside of a hardscrabble Pennsylvania racetrack, showing the pressures that bear on both the horses and the humans, and the possibilities for it all going off the track. He takes you to the real underbelly of the sport. He gives you characters you can root for as they face moral dilemmas. He tells a good tale while he’s giving you the tour. A terrific read.”

–Mike Jensen, journalist, Philadelphia Inquirer, winner of an Eclipse Award

“Behind the grandeur and pageantry of American horse racing there is a dark secret playing out. Author Alex Brown transports his readers to rural Pennsylvania, where heart-pounding action and heartbreak intertwine at the Missionville Racetrack. A captivating read, Missionville excels in its narrative of love, life – and death – on the racetrack’s backside.”

–Jordan Schatz, Sports Editor, Cecil Whig

Missionville: Facebook Page

I am excited to roll out a Facebook page for Missionville.

I will be using this page, over the next several months, to keep everyone updated with the status of the publication of the book Missionville.

I hope you will join the page, and recommend others to do the same. The book is about life at a low-level racetrack based in Pennsylvania. It is fiction, but is a result of my many experiences working in racing in North America.

Missionville: Cover art for new book


Missionville is available on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.ca

Excited to show the cover art that will be used for my new book, Missionville.

Pete trains racehorses at Missionville, a low level racetrack in rural Pennsylvania where horses and humans depend on each other, just to survive. Winning at the races isn’t easy under ordinary circumstances, some successes at Missionville aren’t the result of luck or talent – but flagrant cheating. When Pete begins to open his eyes to the practices going on around him, he realizes he doesn’t want to play the game anymore. A push in the right direction sends Pete on a journey that leads him from Harrisburg to Quebec in an effort to help restore a bit of humanity to his world.

For details on book launch, please leave a comment or e-mail alexbr4cornwall@gmail.com

Second Auction: a short story

There is a damp musty smell in the air; the smell you normally associate with a cold, neglected barn. This place is not much better, but it is much bigger, with an assortment of pens and a collection of horses, and the occasional mouse scurrying around. Horses were here when I arrived last night, more horses arrived throughout the morning. There are all types of horses: large working animals, smaller trotting horses, riding school ponies, and a few old racehorses. Some horses look like they were just dragged in from a field, still caked in mud. Others, like me, still have their sweat marks around their midriff from their last riding activity. Some horses are fat, many are skinny ribby horses.

This is all very confusing, I am only used to other horses like me and the occasional pony horse; I am a racehorse.

We were placed in a corral and just left to our own devices. I guess I was fortunate, Jake put me in a corral on my own and no one has been added. Quite a few horses were shoved together in their enclosures; this has created a lot of anxiety – squealing and biting. Not because we are mean or anti-social, we are just not used to sharing such close quarters.

Overhead there are boardwalks, people are walking along, and gazing down at us. The more adventurous are on our level, carrying out a closer inspection of what is assembled.

I was tired. It was difficult to rest last night. We don’t need much sleep, but this was just too weird a place. I was stood on a dirt floor, no straw for comfort. Through the night there was an occasional call out from a new arrival and a squeal from an anxious animal; it was impossible to relax. My ankle also ached.

I chatted for a while with my neighbor, Indy. He was a trotting racehorse, the kind that pulls a cart in his races. He’d raced 74 times, winning 12, which is pretty great. Like me, he had his aches and pains. Indy had actually been at this auction before. After his racing career was over, he was sent here and was bought by a local farmer. He was used as a driving horse, taking the farmer and his family around the local countryside and into town, in a buggy. Two years later, and a few more aches, he is back again. He has a story.

This is a strange place. I now know it’s an auction, but not like the one I had been to when I was younger, before I started my racing career. At that sale, I had an attendant outside my stall at all times. Whenever anyone appeared interested in me – and there were quite a few – my handler would bring me out, make sure I was clean, and trot me up and down for inspection. Conversations would move from my good conformation to my relatives; apparently my half brother, Ace of Spades, was a Grade 2 stakes winner. I sold well for $150,000.

This auction is very different. No one seems interested in me, no one is attending to me.

I was a good racehorse in my youth. My first trainer, Mike, a great guy, was always keen on me. He had his best groom look after me. I won four races for those guys, including a stakes race which seemed to particularly thrill everyone. Unfortunately, I did suffer from a sore ankle in my right front leg; my groom worked very hard to try to keep it pain free. Sometimes a vet would give me some joint injections to relieve the swelling.

I spent two years in Mike’s care, mostly they were two good years.

One day, after finishing second in a race for Mike, someone from another barn collected me after the race. And this started to happen frequently; I was now competing in a claiming system that moved me from barn to barn, from racetrack to racetrack, until I found myself at a small track in Ohio.

Two years after leaving Mike’s barn, he stopped by to see me. He had shipped a horse in to run in a race later that night at our little track; this was far from the big tracks where Mike usually raced his horses.

I remember the visit well, he was my friend. “Hey pal, I hope you are doing well. You look good,” Mike had said to me. He also gave me an affectionate rub on my nose. But I could detect an uneasiness in his voice, a hint of regret perhaps. We can sense this stuff you know, call it a gift. Mike gave me a mint, before he left he called out, “I’ll see you next time.” I remember wondering when that next time might be.

In my last start, which was only three days ago and two months after Mike’s visit, I got hurt, hurt very badly.

I was what they call, “racing sound.” I had my aches and pains, mostly that right front ankle that I first hurt when I was two, but with some drugs I was able to keep running. But now things were different. My right front ankle had blown. They needed to load me into a horse ambulance after the race to remove me from the racetrack. My ankle was painful, I could hardly put that leg on the ground. The vet who attended to me gave me some pain relief and my groom bandaged up the damaged leg.

That bandage was now long gone, the pain however, was not. Someone entered Indy’s corral and herded him out aggessively, striking him several times on the rump with a bull whip. Indy glanced over to me as he scooted out of his corral, “Maybe see you later pal, good luck.” The old guy disappeared down the shed row towards the sales ring.

This is not good, my routine has been shattered. Things have not been ideal for me at the racetrack over the last couple of years, especially with my troubling ankle. But I know the racetrack, I know the routine. This was another world, and not a friendly place.

No one was paying attention to me at the auction. But I do have a story; I won seven races, I was a good racehorse. I would have won a lot more races if I had not hurt my ankle early in my career. I was very fast. When I won that stakes race, Mike was so proud; he knew how tough I must have been to beat a good group of horses when I was not 100% healthy. Honestly, I really do think he liked me, a lot. He also had pretty ambitious plans for me, if only he could have fixed me up a little more. I know he tried.

A few horses were being ridden in the shed row in front my corral. I assumed that they were being tested to see what sort of horse they were. There was no chance I was going to be ridden; I could barely limp – it did seem like an odd time to put me up for sale.

A lady entered my corral. She seemed nice and talked to me in gentle whispers. “Hey pal, let me look at your lip.” It was a curious thing, but when I went to the races the guy at the entrance of the paddock did the same thing, he checked underneath my top lip. When I was young, someone had placed a mark there, so I assume this is how I am identified.

The lady spoke to a friend, who remained outside my corral, “Shame, it’s too hard to read, there’s no way that we can identify this guy before he goes up for sale. He does look like a thoroughbred, and that ankle looks pretty shocking.” She slipped me a mint.

Yes, my ankle hurt. But this was puzzling to me. Jake, the guy who dropped me off last night who is a pony guy at the racetrack, knows who I am. Surely he let the auction house know. I was a winner of seven races, a stakes winner no less.

I’m also hungry, really hungry! Jake left me here with a flake of hay, but that was nearly a day ago. At the racetrack we were fed like clockwork, three square meals a day, first thing in the morning, after training, and in the evening. A bag of hay is always there for munching. I would eat anything they put in front of me. Where the heck is Jake?

Someone else came into my corral. He did not try to come to me, but used a bull whip and a little hollering to herd me out. It’s the same guy who came for Indy. He’s not a horseman, it’s easy to tell these things. Frankly, he seemed scared of me. Now I was freaking out. Not visibly, in fact I acted like nothing was unusual, I wanted to be cooperative. But inside, I will admit, I was horrified. I also still had those sweat marks on my body from my race three nights ago. Was no one going to clean me up before I was put up for sale?

Bull whip guy herded me onto a machine that was there to weigh me. I was not sure what my weight had to do with things, but I guess a good weight could be a sign of health. I do have a great body, always ate well – when I was fed – and always retained a good body weight. Maybe this is a good thing for me.

The horse in front of me was ridden into the ring. He was not weighed, but he was skinny. I overheard some of the bidding; it was all over in a matter of 30 seconds. The skinny horse was sold for $600; this is a far cry from the $150,000 I had fetched at my first auction.

Now it was my turn.

Bull whip guy herded me into the ring, loose. I thought that was odd. The gallery was packed with onlookers, chatting among themselves. I spied Jake, sat in the top left corner, eating a sandwich. He didn’t seem to show any interest as I entered. Come on Jake, help me out here!

While I did not know Jake that well, he had seemed nice enough. One time he ponied me before a race, I spooked at a black bag that was gusting across the track. Jake jumped off his pony immediately, took hold of my reins and started petting me and whispering to me in a calm, soothing voice. It was a good thing too, my jockey was getting more uptight than me. I won that race. I really needed that soothing voice right now.

The auctioneer made no mention of who I was, he hollered out over the crowd noise, “Does this horse come with a signed paper?” The audience silenced, Jake replied, “Yes, I’ll sign.” The auctioneer continued, “Sold with signed paper, 1,100 pounds.” I had no clue what this all meant, but I knew it was not good; everyone was now looking at me.

Odder still, the bidding started at 10 cents. 10 cents? I could not believe what I was hearing. “15 cents.” “20 cents.” “25 cents.”

There were three people bidding on me. The lady who had been in my corral was one of them, I really needed her to win. There was a guy in a red shirt in one corner of the audience who was also bidding. And a third guy, who sat close to the front and center of the gallery. He stared at me, intently, with his dark, soulless eyes. This third bidder barely made a signal for each of his bids, but was closely monitored by the auctioneer. He lacked basic humanity, we can tell these things. Maybe it was the same with the red shirt guy, but there was something very unsettling about this guy.

The man with the red shirt dropped out of the bidding at 30 cents. The lady’s final bid was 40 cents. The guy with the soulless eyes purchased me at 45 cents and scribbled a note onto a card he held in front of him. He then turned to chat to his motley group of hangers-on.

The whole thing was over in less than 20 seconds. The audience returned to its buzz of gossip.

Bull whip guy herded me out of the sales ring, I was shoved into a large corral; my ankle was really throbbing now – there was a sharp stabbing pain shooting up my leg.

The corral was already full of horses. I spotted Indy in the corner; he glanced over at me with a resigned look, “Things don’t look good pal.”

Whoever the soulless eyes guy is, he bought a lot of horses. Looking around, the other horses were all different shapes and sizes. The one thing we had in common, we were all of good body weight.

I kind of wish that Mike was around right around now. Not too much made any sense to me anymore.

An hour passed, a few more horses had been shoved into our corral, but the sale was over now; people were leaving. The soulless eyes guy came over to inspect his new stock; he is surrounded by his posse of hangers-on, which now includes Jake. The lady is also with them, she appears to be in an animated conversation with the soulless eyes guy and Jake. I wonder if Jake has shared my story.

Horse racing: a short story

It happened again, and I still really don’t understand it. I am now standing here, in an unfamiliar stall, surrounded by unfamiliar people. This usually happens after every three or four races.

The race itself seemed a little easier than the races I had run in lately. While I did not feel like I could run particularly fast, with the urging of my rider – ouch! That whipping stuff does hurt – I moved my tired and sore legs as fast as I could, and managed to finish second, about a neck’s length behind the winner.

The next morning after my race, my new groom fed me some breakfast and fussed around me as she undid the wraps around my legs. Having been through this routine for a number of years now, I knew what to expect next.

She, or another fella who might be the trainer or assistant trainer, would rub their hands down each of my legs, twist and flex my joints, and try to find my pain points. They would jog me up and down the shed row, and then make some medical decisions, along with their vet.

In the next few days I would receive a series of injections, sometimes in the joints that do bother me – my left hock and right front ankle – and sometimes in other joints, for goodness knows what reason. It’s a mystery to me why these folks don’t talk to the last guys that looked after me. One time, a few months and trainers ago, I remember I was injected in my left front knee. The knee had never given me any grief in my life.

It was not always like this.

I was born to be great, or at least I used to be treated as if I would be the best colt of my generation. My youth was spent at a big and lush horse farm in Kentucky. As a baby, I frolicked and played around with other young colts and their mothers; life was full of curiosities and possibilities.

My first inclination that things weren’t always going to be idyllic was when I was put up for sale. I had assumed that all the pampering and fuss I had received as a baby was because I was loved, but apparently it was my monetary value, rather than me, that was loved. I fetched my breeders a tidy sum too, $1.5 million dollars.

I imagine my new owners assumed that I would be a rocket ship for that price. I learned my trade as a young horse, being “broken in” – seriously that is what they call it, when we allow riders into our lives to train us before the racetrack – in sunny Florida. I was with hundreds of other young horses, all with the same target: to be the next Kentucky Derby winner.

Of course, only one horse can achieve that honor each year, and for my year it was not me, but I was close, which is pretty incredible itself.

I raced three times as a two-year-old, winning my second race in New York, at Saratoga, by several horse lengths. I was lauded upon my return to the saddling enclosure; my trainer, jockey and groom really seemed very thrilled with me and my effort. There was also an audible buzz coming from the large crowd, the type of buzz you get when you witness something special.

In my next and final start as a two-year-old, I won again, this time it was a “stakes race,” which is very prestigious. I remember my groom showing me the Daily Racing Form the next morning; on the front page there was a big picture of me. The story headline read, “Thunder Clouds, (that is my name of course) Storms to Victory in the HillTop.” I remember thinking how clever that headline was, and I will admit, I was pretty proud of myself at the time.

The next spring I raced three times, and won once, and placed the other two times. I was one of the top twenty money earning colts of my generation after three wins, so it was decided that I should take my place in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby.

This was the real big time. Massive crowds thronged the backside each morning for our daily training exercises in the week leading up to the big day. And while I enjoyed all the attention, my right front ankle was starting to nag at me a little bit. The vets had been called out to see me over the previous few weeks, and I had received a series of injections to try to relieve the pain. Once the pain was gone, I could run just as fast as if the pain had never been there in the first place.

I did not win the Kentucky Derby. Actually, honestly, I was a little over matched at odds of 50-1, and finished 14th in the field of 20 horses. I tried to make a bit of a run at the leaders going into the final turn, but I did not gain too much ground. Deep into the stretch I felt the urging of my jockey – ouch, and ouch again – while also feeling my right leg weakening a little around the ankle.

Anyway, I had my shot at super stardom. The horse that won the race went on to win the coveted, and often elusive, Triple Crown series. He was sold for $100 million at the end of the year. He was then retired from racing and embarked on a lucrative – and likely quite enjoyable – stud career.

For me, it was a different story.

I had a few months off. During that time, my caretakers also decided to remove my manhood; apparently I was’t going to be good enough to be a stallion, so gelding me was supposed to help me focus on racing. Honestly, I was pretty bummed about my new condition at the time, but like anything, you simply learn to get used to it.

I returned to the races for a fall campaign. My first race was again at the end of the Saratoga meet, this time in a small stakes race, which I won. But then my ankle started hurting again, and it was really making me a little less agile in my training. The ankle was treated, and I raced again and again, each time in stakes races, each time finishing slightly lower down than the last time. You know, it is quite disheartening when you get beaten, not because you are not good enough to win – I was, I was getting beaten by horses I had previously defeated easily – but because you were not a 100% healthy.

My trainer was now getting in newer and younger horses, my turn in his barn was coming to an end.

In my next race, my first race as a four-year-old, I won, and I won easily. At first I was a little confused because before the race I did not feel particularly great; my hock had started hurting now, as well as my ankle. Nevertheless, I was still able to win. The other odd thing, after the race I was collected by someone I did not know, and taken to a horse barn full of strange horses and strange people.

This was then to be my new life, moving from trainer to trainer, every three to four races, and sometimes moving to a new racetrack.

I am now at a racetrack that is quite small. While I spent my youth running around one mile tracks in front of the large boisterous crowds of Churchill Downs and Saratoga, I was now racing at a bullring track of about 5/8ths of a mile in god-knows-where, West Virginia.

Few people came out to watch our races; we mostly raced at night, and sometimes in the dead of winter under floodlights and sleet and hail.

Oddly though, I am a bit of a celebrity on the backside. Everyone seems to know me, and say affectionate things about me as they pass me by going to and from the training track; ‘How’s ole’ Thunder holding up after his last race?’ a rider from another barn might ask. My rider would invariably respond, ‘He’s great; amazing old hoss.’ It did not seem to matter if I did, in fact, feel fine or if my ankle or hock was hurting. I was oblivious to the high stakes claiming game in which I was an unwitting pawn; the game meant that no one would reveal my real well-being, in case someone listening was plotting the next claim for me.

So I was readied for my next race. I had a new exercise rider, as is always the case when I move to a new barn. He seemed like a decent chap, he was the leading rider at the track some twenty years ago. He would pet me once in a while, and let me know when he wanted me to go slower and faster. Sometimes, though, he did not show up for work; sometimes he would come to work but there would be a stink on his breath that was really quite overwhelming. I had experienced all this before, in a couple of weeks I will be sent to race again.

But the reality is, I have pretty much had enough. My legs are tired and sore. I have not had a break since after the Kentucky Derby, which was now more than three long years ago. Since that time, I have raced 34 times, winning quite a few (10) and losing quite a few more. During those 34 races, I have been ridden by lots of different riders, none of whom paid too much attention to me. It was the same with the grooms who looked after me temporarily, and also with the vets who kept stabbing me with needles full of drugs.

I stood in the starting gate for my next start and waited for the gates to open and the race to unfold. I couldn’t imagine that I could win this race, but I have felt poorly before and won; they somehow seem to make the races easier, just as I think I can no longer compete. My specialist distance was now 5/8ths of a mile, which is a far cry from the mile and a quarter of the fastest two minutes in sports.

As the race began and we headed out of the clubhouse turn and into the back stretch I took a bad step – well “took a bad step” is the euphemism they will use to describe my final moments. The reality is, my ankle crumpled and I fell to the ground.

New Book: Becoming a Clear Admit: The Definitive Guide to MBA Admissions


I am excited to announce my new book, Becoming a Clear Admit: The Definitive Guide to MBA Admissions.

The book examines the MBA admissions process and identifies how candidates can optimize their applications, while also establishing the importance of an MBA from a top school.

The book includes a unique tiered ranking system, which better explains which schools are most highly regarded, and which schools are too similar in quality to make that a decision factor for candidates; aspects with regard to fit and career goals then become more important with regard to selecting schools to apply.

The book also includes a unique analysis of the important attributes an MBA candidate needs to highlight, while also addressing the different personal profiles that are under- and over-represented in MBA admissions.  I also address how admissions committees make decisions, and how important the waitlist is to ensure the goals of the adcom are met at the end of the season.

Finally, the book includes a “Jargon Glossary,” which helps make the MBA admissions process more accessible.